People often think of it as a grown-up playground, but with plenty of kid-friendly attractions, London is a great place to take a break together as a family. London’s iconic sights and historical attractions often include something for the little ones, like the interactive exhibits at the Science and Natural History museums or the gory stories at the Tower of London (kids love history as long as it’s horrible.) Adults in London, however, sometimes want to take a break from the ticketed attractions for some good old unstructured retail therapy. This is a great idea in the city where Regent Street and Oxford Street are just the tip of the shopping iceberg, but what about the kids? Dragging them through designer boutiques for hours is a recipe for whining, tears and all-round misery. Happily, London has you covered here with shops your kids will beg to go back to!
This famous store is the oldest toy shop in the world, opened in the 1800s. It has been in its current location on Regent Street since 1881, and it now offers seven floors of child heaven with over 50,000 toys. The range includes educational toys as well as popular favourites from teddy bears to Lego to video games to remote-control helicopters. On the top floor are a Build-A-Bear workshop, sweet shop and café. You can also keep an eye out for special events, meet-and-greets and new toy releases. The closest store to hotels in London Heathrow is the smaller Hamley’s in Heathrow Airport; there are also stores at Gatwick and Stansted airports and at St Pancras station.
Tales on Moon Lane:
This fancifully-named shop specialises in children’s books – one of only a couple of shops in London to do so. It’s been listed as a top bookshop by TimeOut and won the Walker Children’s Independent Booksellers award in 2011, so you know it’s a high quality establishment. Look out for new best-sellers, signings with writers and artists, and other special events to make shopping for the kids in London a breeze. Children will be enchanted and you can be smug in the knowledge that if they beg you to get out your wallet, they’ll be walking away with something educational that doesn’t make obnoxious noises.
The Harry Potter Store:
Located in King’s Cross Station, this one is easy to spot – just look for the crowds of Potter-heads and follow your children’s excited shrieks. The shop is right next to the “Platform 9 3/4” exhibit where a luggage trolley is embedded in the wall, so fans of all ages can have their photo taken pretending to run through the barrier just like their favourite Potter characters. You can take your own photos but there are also two shop employees on duty at most times of day – one to take a high-quality photo, which you can buy in the shop, and one to drape you in the house scarf of your choosing and flap it behind you for effect while your picture is taken. The store sells Potter merchandise at every price point, from chocolate frogs and keychains to £70 woollen Hogwarts jumpers, wands and jewellery, some of it otherwise impossible to find outside of Universal Studios in Florida – you may want to prepare your kids by giving them a budget before you enter, to avoid disappointment.
This whimsical Hampstead boutique is the perfect place to take little ones who still love to “play pretend”. They do their best to make every child’s dreams come true, whether they want to be a fairy, pirate, princess, prince or even superhero. You can also hire Mystical Fairies for private parties if you happen to have a birthday in the family during your stay. As the name suggests, the store caters more to the pink and frilly, but every child is always welcome.
Hardy’s Original Sweetshop:
There are several of these scattered around London and they offer that unique “old-timey” sweetshop feel, with huge jars of boiled sweets in stacked rows behind the counter and a wide range of traditional British confectionery. Fans of Charlie and the Chocolate Factorywill no doubt enjoy the atmosphere. You can also find oddball items from the States here, such as marshmallow fluff and sugary cereals. This one is best saved for just before you get on the plane to go home; a carefully doled out bag of treats should keep small travellers happy for several hours at least.